In the summer of 2013, I wrapped up my first year as an elementary principal and attended a national conference for the first time. At the National Association of Elementary Principal's Conference in Baltimore, I was blown away by the number of people, quality of presenters, and the beautiful venue. One of the components of the conference that I enjoyed most was this place called the Social Media Lounge. In this space, presenters gave 20 minute talks about a particular tool or technique and then spent the next 20-30 minutes working through it with individuals or small groups of people. During one of the sessions I attended, Tony Sinanis, recommended a children's book that taught a great lesson about appreciating differences in others.
I downloaded Wonder by R.J. Palacio on the flight home and began reading immediately. Upon finishing this book, I knew I wanted to do something with this in the schools I was leading. In this well-known novel, Palacio tells the story of Auggie Pullman, who enters fifth grade at Beecher Prep outside of New York City. Auggie was born with a craniofacial condition and a number of health issues that caused him to be home-schooled
up to this point. The book explores the importance of kindness, empathy, embracing diversity, and grit when times get tough, as a fifth-grader adjusts to a completely new setting. Over the past couple of years, I really didn't do a whole lot with this book other than quoting it in weekly Friday Focus newsletters while telling teachers about it.
Last spring, as I was thinking about goals for the upcoming school year, I finally realized what I wanted to do with this book at Epworth Elementary School. I went to a movie with my boys and saw a preview for Wonder the movie and my wheels immediately started spinning about the release date and a book study I would lead with any fourth grader who was interested. I started having conversations with our teachers to make this happen.
We had 21 students sign up to read the book, discuss it on a bi-weekly basis during their lunch time, reflect through Kidblog, complete various BreakoutEDU activities, and have a really good time in the process. The release date for the movie was Friday, November 17 which was the last day students would attend school before the Thanksgiving holiday break. At the start of the book study, it was the plan all along to take the students to the movie on opening day; however, we wanted to keep this a secret until the very end. I'm happy to say that we were able to keep this a secret which was completely amazing. If you are interested in seeing the reaction of the students, watch the last two minutes of the video embedded above that recaps the entire experience. This book study was one of the most enjoyable opportunities I have been part of as an educator.
The conversations, connections, and unique thought students invested into this work completely blew me away. We talked about what it means to be a good friend, what it means to be empathetic, and when to do the right thing even when that is very hard. We discussed differences, struggle, seeing situations from a variety of perspectives, and what it means to be kinder than necessary. I'm hopeful that our students learned a little more about kindness, empathy, and friendship through this process and will enter middle school next year being just a little better in these areas. If this happens, I will consider this experience to be a huge success.
As we wrapped up after seeing the movie last Friday, I couldn't help but think about what the adults in our world could have learned from this experience. I wonder if "the leader of our country" has ever considered what it means to be kinder than necessary. I wonder how much more productive conversations could be if we viewed situations from the perspectives of others. I wonder how much stronger our partnerships, friendships, and connections would be if we did the right thing every single day, even when it is very hard. I wonder...